The day after yesterday, so near yet so far

It was so near yet so far. When I woke up this morning, momentarily I didn’t want to get out of bed. My day could have been so different, as could have the whole of England. Imagine how the die hard English fans would feel today.

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THE BIG GAME

Last night, our nerves and emotions were tested and stretched to the limits. Italy was always going to be a tough one to crack, yet being in England, of course, you have to ignore the elephant in the room. The three lions needed all the support and motivation they could get. The Queen had sent a personal message to the team, we had the Red Arrows fly by at the beginning of the game. Only the English would understand how much this meant to the team.

Pretty much most of the nation – save those who were watching the Wimbledon’s men final in the afternoon – were getting ready way before kick-off for the biggest game of our lives. Two minutes into the game, it looked as though winning the Azzurri wasn’t impossible. We had barely sat down and had our first sip of the beer and we’d scored!!! The roars and ecstasy from our neighbours filled into my living room. Now there was only one thing in this world that could top this moment. We had one foot in the door, all we had to do was for the second foot to step in.

We hung onto our seats for the next 65 minutes and watched in aguish as we lost our advantage in that split moment when Italy scored. The game had reset. Back to square one. We hung in there for the rest of the game, not conceding nor did we get another breakthrough. In all honesty, you have to give credit to the England team for getting this far against Italy.

THE INEVITABLE

Finally, the inevitable had to happen, the dreaded penalty shootout. We roared when Belotti missed the penalty, we were one up. It hurt so much when Rashford missed. Advantage lost again. Our anguish intensified when Sancho missed the next penalty. We were one down now. There was only one more shootout from each team before sudden death. The much-dreaded Jorginho was the last of the five from Italy. Pickford couldn’t have done more for the team, he saved it. We cheered and cheered, even louder than before. Finally, the nation’s hope of staying in the game was hinged on the 19 year old Saka. Only Donnarumma was in our way.

It just wasn’t our time. It was over for England. Football wasn’t coming home this year.

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THE MORNING AFTER

Everywhere felt so quiet this morning when I woke up. The mood on social media, TV and newspaper was one of consolation, reflection, and condemnation.

CONSOLATION

Never in over half a century has England come so close to winning a major tournament. A big irony gave that modern-day football started in England in 1863. The nation needed something to lift us out from the darkness of the pandemic and the fifty-five year wait. On the face of it, Italy was the stronger and better team, no denying that, and they are indeed the worthy winner. Still, losing hurt. No amount of consolation will rid that pain, but this is when we need to come together, united and become stronger.

REFLECTION

The penalties could have gone either way, or could we have avoided our loss? Why did we not put our more experience players forward at this very crucial moment? Why take Henderson off? If you’re swapping players in for the penalty shootout, why not do it a bit earlier and let them warm up to the game? I cannot imagine the immense pressure of taking a penalty, and carrying the weight of the nation’s hope on your shoulders. And I applaud the guys for doing that. I’m all for giving opportunities and experience to nurture the next generation. There’s a time to do this, and there’s a time to pause this.

CONDEMNATION

The reputation of English football thugs are fairly notorious, to the extent, it’s sometimes embarrassing to be English. A group of fans without tickets tried to force their way into Wembley, kicking down barriers and attacking the security guards. Forty-nine were arrested. There were reports of some hurling abuse at Italians on and off the pitch. And after the match, there was a lot of racial attack at the team, particularly Rashford, Sancho and Saka who all missed the penalties. No one should blame the Three Lions for losing. They have taken England further than anyone else in the past fifty years. If anyone is to be condemned, it is these English football fans who once again bought disgrace to the nation.

SO NEAR YET SO FAR

I’m not a die hard football fan, but I do watch the major football matches.   I’m looking forward to the World Cup next year and hope we can continue the unfinished journey to bring football home.

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